Alcala: Spanish Cuisine at Its Finest

May 5, 2013 Updated: October 8, 2018

Alcala, a restaurant tucked a few blocks away from Grand Central, looks unassuming from the outside, but specializes in Spanish cuisine that is so good that many of its fiercely loyal regulars order the same dish again and again.

And for anyone who doesn’t know Spanish food, or thinks they don’t like Spanish food, well, it makes converts out of them.

Named after the neoclassical gate in Madrid’s Independence Square, Alcala’s regulars include ambassadors and United Nations staff, who come here to lunch.

At Alcala, the atmosphere is elegant and cozy, with a definite Spanish touch—from carved wooden screens, tiles, and the oil paintings that adorn the walls.

Authentic and Healthy

A selection of classic tapas is available, from addictive smoky chorizo to a melt-in-your-mouth spinach and shrimp cannelloni.

The Gambas al Ajillo, (or shrimp in garlic sauce) come sizzling in an earthenware dish. The delicious aroma hits your nose first. It’s a dish so good that you can’t help but use bread to mop up every drop of sauce left behind.

The ingredients are simple—nothing more than shrimp, olive oil, salt, a bit of white wine, and parsley at the end—but it is elevated by the exact and careful preparation.

This pretty much characterizes the food at Alcala. The ingredients are of great quality, simple, and maybe healthier than what you might see in Spain—the kitchen eschews flour, heavy cream, and doesn’t even have a fryer—and dishes are prepared with the greatest attention.

This means the dishes are as light and healthy as can be, at the same that they are packed with flavor.

The same goes for fish dishes, which are prepared with simple ingredients, with olive oil and salt—nothing else—before going into the oven for seven minutes.

The owner, Jesus Martinez, who comes from the verdant province of Galicia in northwestern Spain, is most insistent on quality, and goes to pick out fish at the market every morning at 2:30 a.m.

The paellas, that classic staple of Spanish cuisine, are excellent here, and you can taste each morsel individually, from the shrimp to the squid to the peas and tomatoes and rice.

Desserts draw rave reviews—from the Basque leche frita (fried milk) to the caramel custard. A good option is Basque dessert sampler, consisting of four shareable desserts.

All the wines are imported from Spain.


You’ll find healthy and authentic Spanish dishes here, but what’s really marking when you come through the door is the wonderful hospitality.

Although the presidents of Santo Domingo and Guatemala are friends and come regularly, and although Alcala may have catered for the Queen of Denmark, here everyone is welcomed as friends.

It’s evident. Some diners pass through the doors and are welcomed with a kiss, or a hug, or a genuine greeting.

“After a little while, your customers become your friends,” said Martinez, who has customers who have come for years. He just has to ask, “You want the same, right?” One diner who has come for a year chose the cado gallego and octopus, every time. Martinez said when people find a dish they like, they tend to stick to it.

Specials at Alcala (soup, fish, dessert) start at $26 for lunch, $40 for dinner.

246 E. 44th St.
Monday–Friday: Lunch, 12:00 p.m.–3:30 p.m.
Monday–Thursday: Dinner, 3:30 p.m.–11:00 p.m.
Friday and Saturday: Dinner, 3:30 p.m.–12:00 a.m.
Sunday: 5:00 p.m.–9:30 p.m.

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